Italy blocks EU's bid to get tough on Venezuela

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The 35-year-old has since won the support of many western nations although powerful countries such as Russia, China and Turkey continue to back Maduro and denounce what they call foreign meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs.

But an attempt to muscle up the bloc's common position was vetoed by Italy, four diplomatic sources told AFP, with the coalition government in Rome divided over how to handle the Venezuela crisis.

President Donald Trump plans to ramp up the pressure on Venezuela's embattled leader Nicolas Maduro in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, doubling down on U.S. support for his challenger Juan Guaido.

The 19 European governments that backed Guaido issued a statement on Monday, declaring they "acknowledge and support" the opposition leader's claim to the presidency and right to call elections.

- Britain, Germany, France and Spain and more than a dozen other members of the European Union recognized Guaido in a coordinated action on February 4 following the expiration of an ultimatum they gave for Maduro to call a new presidential election. It also called on Venezuela's military to give their loyalty to the interim president.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Francisco Popolizio Bardalen said the emboldened Venezuelan opposition "represents the beginning of the end of the dictatorship". The term "recognize" was, however, absent from the joint declaration, fueling speculation that European countries are not prepared to go as far as the United States in escalating economic sanctions on the country.

The contact group comprises the European Union and eight of its member states - France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden - and four Latin American countries: Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

The 35-year-old Guaido, accused by Maduro's government of staging a US -directed coup, has galvanized Venezuela's opposition with a hopeful message.

Despite repeated calls for his resignation, Maduro has refused to step down, contending that he was legally the President of Venezuela. He concluded by slamming the US' rejection of the dialogue initiative of the Mexican and Uruguayan governments to be held on Thursday.

"The majority of the oil production that we want to increase will be with the private sector", Vecchio noted.

Monday's event also featured several high-ranking figures from the government and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), as well as global activists.

"From today, we will spare no effort in helping all Venezuelans achieve freedom, prosperity and harmony", said Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister.

Likewise, Argentine sociologist Marco Teruggi argued that there are no conditions for a coup to be successful because the Venezuelan people would defend its sovereignty.

Maduro, 56, has repeatedly accused the USA of fomenting a coup.

"The Canadian workers stand with Venezuela!"

Culture Minister Ernesto Villegas also took part in the event, stating that "if [the US] wants friendship, we will have friendship".

"We believe production will likely fall to around 900,000 b/d under pressure from sanctions and a lack of materials for workovers, but we expect waivers will ease the full impact of the sanctions until they expire", Hittle said.

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